Monday, July 31, 2006

Why Women Shouldn't Play Sports...Seriously?

Update: I don't know why, but there really are a lot of people who search for this topic through Google, so this is possibly one of the most viewed entries I've ever written. So all that said, it should be very apparent that I disagree with the stance of female subservience and crushing the dreams of female athletes for allegedly "Biblical" reasons. So if you're looking for something that supports that kind of crap, go someplace else.

I can't help myself here. LutheranChik linked to the article, I started reading it, and now you have the option of reading it. It is amazing to me that people think that this is a reasonable position. For those completely uninterested in giving this article extra hits, here are some low points:
I propose that sports greatly hinders the development of godly, Biblical, feminine character. Parents today expend extraordinary amounts of time and energy taking their daughters from one sports event to another, week after week, even to the point where it exhausts the family and family resources. The fruits we see are that today’s Christian women are often ill-prepared to be Biblically obedient wives and mothers.
Because 1) parents running boys around to sports practice is a good kind of exhausting and 2) volleyball inhibits childbirth. Or something.
Actually, I don’t have a problem with women playing recreational sports on an occasional basis, just with them playing competitive sports on a regular day-to-day basis. This rigorous physical and mental training tends to make women more masculine. I think it is prudent to often ask ourselves “Can a woman do this activity and retain a Biblically feminine character?” With sports I think it will be difficult in most cases. Even some of the traditionally more feminine sports like gymnastics and ice skating are now influencing women to be more masculine.
What is 'Biblically feminine character?' How might my own wife achieve such a Godly form and manner? As we've already seen, 'Biblically feminine' apparently includes obedience/subservience and 'not being masculine.' But we need more information so Mrs. Jeff will properly conform. Ah, here we go:
Most men I know admire a woman who is reasonably healthy and fit; they are also attracted to a woman who is somewhat “soft” and cuddly. This does not mean she should be delicate like tissue paper; no, a woman should be reasonably strong, and the normal duties of life will make her that way. This is what we learn from the Proverbs 31 woman. However, if you look at pictures of female athletes who play sports or observe them on the playing fields, you will notice that many develop strong, muscular bodies. Female athletes also sneer, wince, push, and fight just like the men. I notice these things all the time in pictures in our hometown newspaper. The sneers are most obvious; they make young women very unfeminine. The masculine uniforms and sweaty bodies aren’t very attractive, either.
To be 'Biblically feminine,' our women need to be healthy and fit or perhaps a little soft and cuddly (please, no fatties). And certainly not strong and muscular. That's excessively healthy and fit. If the wife can beat you at arm wrestling, you are obviously feminized and unworthy of the parts God created you with. No, hold on, it's not your fault, it's theirs. Whew, dodged a bullet. Oh, and wives just need to be hot. Not a sweaty kind of hot, but a wispy-but-soft swimsuit issue kind of hot. No strained faces, please. No, I see you. Knock it off.

Okay, that's enough of that. What we have here, quite plainly, is sexism and fear of stronger women posing as Biblical mandate. No, it's just what the Bible says, right? Sure, the Bible is chock full of verses detailing how women need to be the best arm candy they can be (dependent on their husband's tastes in body type), should never pursue their own interests (which may include joining the lacrosse team), need to be physically weaker than men so men don't get shown up (yeah, that's in the article too), and without exception should never sneer (even when their husbands write asinine articles like this one).

Related post: Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn't Be Ordained

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Blog You Might Have Been Waiting For

A blog called The CCM Patrol reviews Christian music. Here's the hook: they actually review Christian music rather than automatically praise it because it's Christian. From their description:

In case the statement has to be made, Christian music should not be the laughingstock of cultural phenomena. Unlike popular Christian magazines that *cough* cover Christian music, no blunders, artistic or otherwise, will be spared scrutiny here. Especially if they lend to making a funny and / or mean joke. If you are willing to put forth your material for thousands to hear, then you deserve to be ridiculed if it's horrible. All of the more so because you are supposedly also endorsed by God. God's name should not, in fact, be raped on the radio.


Perhaps the last line is an overstatement. Nevertheless, they don't give free passes to anyone. Definitely a friend in the fight against bland three-chords-and-a-cliche Christian 'rock.' Check it out.

HT to Bob.

Can't Resist a Book Meme

HT to Chris T. It's a big week for you on this blog!

1. One book that changed your life: The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders. This book started me on my journey toward a thinking faith, complete with a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted into the early morning hours one night. But I got through it. This book got some gears turning; still turning some eight years later.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Does Romeo and Juliet count? I can't think of many I've read more than once, although I've been meaning to revisit a couple. A friend of mine makes it a point to read The Color Purple every year. I'm thinking of doing that with Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Shakespeare's Complete Works. Plenty to read and if I get really bored I can act scenes out.
.

4. One book that made you laugh: Pure Drivel by Steve Martin. There aren't many books that make me laugh so hard that they bring me to tears.

5. One book that made you cry: See above.

6. One book that you wish had been written: It's still possible to be written: my father's memoir. I think his story of ministry would bring a lot of insight to those still pastoring churches.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: You know, I really thought about this one. For someone to wish that a book had never been written, it can't be any less than something that influenced people in such a strong and negative way. There are books that are written badly and there are books that inspire or encourage bad things. The former can just be thrown out or will be seen for what they are. The latter are the type that really deserve this category. And even after a day of thinking about it, I can't come up with one that really stands out. I could say Hitler's Mein Kampf, but it wasn't the book that inspired what happened. I could list any amount of theological schlock that has come down the pike over the years. But I can't center on any one book that I wish had never been written. Chalk it up to lack of imagination.

8. One book you’re currently reading: The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann. One of the meatier books I've read this year.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Moral Man and Immoral Society by Reinhold Neibuhr. A classic on theology and ethics, and from what I understand one of Reinhold's attempts to practically apply his theology (which is what Christian ethics is).

10. Now tag five people: I tag YOU, person reading this!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

I started Moltmann's The Crucified God this week. I'm not rushing through this, because it's a really rich text. Moltmann's central message so far seems to be that however the church adapts to culture in practice, it must retain the message of the cross at its core. It wasn't until I started reading this that I've begun to fully appreciate the context out of which theologians such as Moltmann, Barth, and Bonhoeffer write. Their thoughts were conceived in Germany in the midst of or shortly after World War II and the Holocaust, so naturally one of their primary concerns is how the church acts and reacts in the surrounding society. They witnessed firsthand the problems that arise when the church takes in too much uncritically from its environment, with destructive consequences.

We went to see Clerks II last weekend, Kevin Smith's return to the Askewniverse...or whatever...and it was just really funny. Some of the content is not for the faint of heart, but that's typical Kevin Smith. Here we find the clerks ten years removed from their original adventures, and we get classic Smith-ish dialogue on what constitutes 'starting your life,' Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars, some religious commentary, and a few nods to previous Smith films. You should see it just for the big dance number. Yes, there is one.

Firefly should have lasted a lot longer. It's original and it had a great mix of characters. But FOX's thing seems to be that if it doesn't immediately take off it's not worth saving. Then again, they let Arrested Development go for as long as it did...meh, exception to the rule. The series lasted a short 15 episodes or so (three of which never even aired), and I found myself craving more. Surely Joss Whedon at least made an attempt to get a channel like Sci Fi to pick it up. Regardless, fans were given a tiny bit of satisfaction with the feature film Serenity last year, which we watched last night. The movie seems very much geared toward people who know the show. There's a good 2-3 seasons worth of material that got crammed into it, and Mrs. Jeff and I were both upset that main characters died...then again, Whedon tends to do that.

This week I recommend a few specific songs rather than albums or bands. The first is RobinElla's 'Little Boy,' a bluegrass ballad with minimal accompaniment - a very sweet tone and message. The second is Jurassic 5's new single 'What's Golden,' and you have to watch the video for added effect.

Around the web, you NEED to visit Dribbleglass.com and click on the 'Billboards' link. You have no choice. DO IT.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What to wear, who you are

A few days ago I posted some thoughts on dressing for church. Well, if you've seen Chris T.'s photos from his ordination (see below), you might expect such a discussion to arise from the truly eclectic group that gathered that day.

And it has. A blog entitled Beauty Tips for Ministers caught wind of the event and has sparked quite a discussion on pastoral dress, which has led to a discussion of pastoral authority. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Ordination

Another colleague was ordained over the weekend. This colleague I only know through the blogosphere, but he's a colleague nonetheless. Chris T. from Even the Devils Believe was ordained into the Independent Catholic priesthood. Just by viewing the photos, I learned so much about what goes into their ordination service (AND how much freedom they must have).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Finding Obscurity

Scott Williams was the first to open my eyes to some things that most pastors probably can't see on their own. Chiefly, these are things related to the realistic amount of time that members can devote to church activities, and the place of privilege that pastors truly enjoy. His version is more raw than Barbara Brown Taylor's, which I think is why I like his better. In a recent entry, he says this:


quitting full-time christian ministry has been the best and most frustrating journey i have ever been on. i would contend that i have learned more about myself and my world in this time than in any other period of my life.

i have found obscurity.

perhaps it is more accurate to say that i have finally admitted to myself that i am ordinary and unimportant by almost every societal barometer that matters in prevalent society.i never would have imagined how quickly i could be forgotten. people asked friends of mine if i had moved out of town. there was a prevalent rumour that i had abandoned my faith. the phone stopped ringing. people I ran into, whom i had known for a decade, were noticeably uncomfortable and overly polite. i felt like a leper. i took to driving by my old church hoping i would have the nerve to stop in, knowing i would not. there were no longer the invitations to speak at gatherings or churches. i could walk into a room and no one would care. i was no longer a moral authority. i had to pay for my own meals.

but far worse than all this was the incessant need to make money. unlike almost every other normal person in this world i never had to think much about money. of course there was never enough, but there was always more around the corner doing what most people would not consider work at all. i was paid to read and blog and talk and coffee and hang out. then one day i woke up and realized i did not have a job. the prospect of leaving the ministry sounded good in theory, but i had no idea the cost in reality. suddenly i was working at a series of meaningless jobs. the thing i had long belittled had finally become a reality in my own life – i was working for a living.


Every few weeks, I ask myself what I would be doing if I wasn't a local church pastor. The answers that keep creeping to the top either have to do with other ministry ventures such as hospital chaplaincy, or more 'secular' (we need to get rid of that word) jobs such as keeping a bookstore or coffeehouse, teaching religion in a higher education setting, or taking a serious stab at writing. I don't doubt that I would be content with any of these positions and, realistically, any of them could be in my future.

The harder challenge is to live with truths about pastoral privilege and member busyness while remaining in ministry. As I've mentioned before, I've spent a lot of time reading the types of stories that Scott and Taylor tell lately: tales of burnout, tales of realizing something about the church as institution and stepping away, tales of encountering the 'real world' (let's bag that term, too) post-ministry. The harder challenge is to address those truths while remaining in the church. To be clear, this is not to say that those who have left have given up or failed or weren't strong enough. This is to ask how those who still feel a call to pastor churches can struggle with them and live with them.

Back in May I went to Eden for an alumni gathering. Part of our time was spent discussing ministry issues. During one such discussion the group began to lament the seeming lack of commitment by parishioners to studying and questioning the Bible. Immediately, Scott's reflections zipped through my brain, and I spoke some of them out loud, perhaps with a little more force and anger than I wanted in retrospect. In fact, I might have embarrassed myself a little by saying it the way I said it. Nevertheless, there was some spoken agreement from the group. I could not in that moment express my frustration at what was expected of me, what I expected from myself, and what I expected from others in any other way.

I am thankful for critiques like Scott's. Pastors need to read them. They help keep us honest.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Misc. for Sunday

~I went to the depressing and frustrating 14-6 massacre up at Jacobs Field on Friday evening. We were in the bleachers, which become very hard on the backside during the 8-run 4th inning. Tom Hanks was there, sitting in one of the boxes. He wasn't shown on the scoreboard until the 9th inning, which was most likely to keep people from bugging him the whole game. That's good, if for no other reason than that was more exciting than what happened on the field.

~On Saturday I saw a billboard that read as follows:

A) Pro-life.
B) Pro-Choice.
C) Pro-Wrestling.
D) All of the Above.

And then in the corner it said, 'Only in America.' I thought it was an official organization, but as yet I haven't found any sort of literature or website claiming it. I'm still trying to figure out its meaning. Maybe that America is diverse?

~Today a buddy from Eden was ordained into the United Church of Christ. Go to his blog and congratulate him.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea last Friday, and I can't say it was either great or terrible. It features a much-heralded literary character in Captain Nemo, whom I realized we don't learn that much about over the course of the book. The book is really driven by events more than characters...that, and all the lists of fish that Verne felt necessary to include. In between that and Bell's book, I skimmed over The Missional Leader, which I've decided is the last emerging/missional/new church paradigm book that I pick up for a while, because they're starting to sound the same.

We watched The Skeleton Key the other week, which I thought was good for what it was. The promised twist wasn't nearly as monumental or surprising as I remember the previews making it out to be. I watched it the first time by myself, and then when I saw it the second time with Mrs. Jeff, I picked up on certain lines and actions that made more sense. It's a decent twist, just not shocking.

We finally started watching Firefly the other day, which features some recurring actors from seasons of Buffy and Angel, and Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball. This is basically a western set in space. The classic Joss Whedon humor is there, and the concept is original. I can't help notice some Star Wars parallels: Mal as a Hans Solo character aboard the Serenity/Millenium Falcon and trying to stay off the Alliance/Empire's radar. We've seen the entire first DVD already, which means we only have three more discs and we're done with the series. It didn't last on TV very long.

I like to listen to Zero 7 on the way to visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes. I don't totally know why.

Around the web, Stephen Colbert has a beautiful satirical piece about religion.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Review of Rob Bell's 'Velvet Elvis'

This is another book that I didn't have much of an interest in reading at first, but decided to hear more of what Bell has to say. If you're not familiar with Bell, he's the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids (not to be confused with Driscoll's Mars Hill Church in Seattle). My previous experience with Bell comes only from his podcast sermons from his church's website. In fact, the very first podcast of his that I listened to was his Easter sermon from this past year, where he begins by announcing, 'He...is...risen!' and then you hear 10,000 people cheering. Bell is also associated with emerging/emergent types by others, though apparently he doesn't have much interest in calling himself either of those terms. All in all, Bell seemed to me to be less confined to the rigorous defense of a particular theological 'flavor' and a little more likely to weave human experience into his sermons. I like both of those things. So I read his book.

First the explanation of the title: Bell writes that he has a velvet Elvis in his basement, and the only signature from the artist is a simple 'R' in the corner. Bell shares his wonder with the reader: what if 'R' had declared, after he finished this piece of art, that no art would ever have to be produced again? What if we all had taken 'R''s lead and decided that we are done making new art because 'R' has painted this velvet Elvis, thus completing all art forever? You can probably see the tie-in here. Bell eventually makes the connection that we can't declare all theology finished, that there is nothing more to discover about God because someone already finished discovering all that 500, 1000, 2000 years ago. Immediately the UCC member says, 'Oo! Oo! We have a slogan about that!' But Bell, I think, would say that it's more about our discovery and less about God speaking, although he also states that the Spirit is living and active among people today, guiding them as the Biblical writers and early councils were guided.

The main theme of this book seems to be that of discovery and recognizing how big God really is. While Bell occasionally reminds the reader that he adheres to 'orthodox' Christian faith, he recognizes that these are human concepts to wrap our minds around something that ultimately we can't understand. His first example is the Trinity, a theological concept that appears nowhere by name in the Bible, but emerged from a human experience and understanding of God.

Bell approaches the Bible the same way. He presents his belief that the Bible was written by humans and wanted to make certain points and wrote from certain perspectives. He presents 5-6 literary techniques used by Biblical authors to make their points, such as the sequence of events in Mark's passion narrative as parallel to what happened in a coronation ceremony (of course, one may want to investigate these on their own and come to their own conclusions). Bell begins his chapter on the Bible by questioning how the story of mass slaughter in the story of Jericho could have been God-inspired. While he doesn't explicitly resolve this for the reader, he later presents a rabbinic belief that one does not yet fully understand a particular scripture, but gives thanks that s/he may one day understand. Bell implies that this story of mass murder is inspired somehow, but he doesn't yet understand how. This is, in my experience, a common way to apologize for the text without really committing to saying 'yes' or 'no.' All in all, Bell believes that the Bible is a set of narratives to be experienced rather than a list of proposals. He outright rejects the 'instruction manual' metaphor, stating that you only get out your toaster's instruction manual when the toaster is broken. He wants to suggest that the Bible is more than that, which is probably why he seeks to redeem texts such as Jericho.

Bell presents one other idea that I think is worth mentioning. He compares Christian faith to jumping on a trampoline as opposed to building a wall. In the case of the latter, the bricks are fixed in place, to be defended, and to keep out undesirables. If one brick gets chipped the whole thing falls down. In the case of the former, one doesn't defend the trampoline...one invites others to jump with them because it's so wonderful. Plus, jumping on the trampoline is doing and experiencing something rather than sitting and talking about how right you are.

The book is far from perfect. Bell sometimes tries to sound profound, but can veer into pretty phrases that don't mean anything, i.e., 'The mystery is the truth.' At other times, he presents some fairly elaborate theories with minimal information in the footnotes. In one instance, he presents a long explanation of what it meant to follow a rabbi in 1st Century Palestine, and most of his footnotes are from the Gospels, and the one exception can be summed up as follows: 'My friend told me all this. Here's his website.' That doesn't seem like a hard list of resources to me. Finally, Bell seems to want so badly to remain in traditional evangelical claims while attempting a Blue Like Jazz-type critique at the same time. Sometimes it just doesn't work. One example is the Jericho text above. Another is his re-conceptualizing of atonement: he spends almost a whole chapter talking about how much bigger the cross is than a substitutionary ticket to heaven, how it is a symbol of our brokenness and an invitation to die to old habits and move back to who God wants us to be. He then ends the chapter with a story about someone else paying his restaurant bill and saying, 'Grace has already paid our bill.' He spends a whole chapter moving away from substitutionary atonement and then throws in a 'Jesus paid the price' metaphor at the end. Why was that last story necessary?

Bell's book reads like a long stream-of-consciousness blog post. That's not a bad thing. It features short, choppy sentences and paragraphs in block format. The book is only 177 pages long, so these things together make for a quick read (I started it yesterday and finished it this morning). He's mainly concerned with a 'seeker' audience questioning certain Christian beliefs that seem more rigid, more finished. This is light fare for those more experienced in theology. Read it if you've never experienced Bell before, and as he says on the back cover, wrestle with it rather than swallow it whole.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sunday...Truly a Day of Rest

Yesterday morning was a pretty good morning. I'm trying my hardest not to tack the phrase 'all things considered' on the end of that.

We had a hymn sing, which I've already mentioned, so that way it was a lower-anxiety day. The bigger event was an early visit from my buddy Ian and his girlfriend Gina on their way to New York. Gina's family lives in the same county as us, so they'd spent the night there on Saturday and cruised through our village on the way up to the Ohio turnpike. This was Ian's first visit to our house, and our first chance to meet Gina.

Sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to see what you really have. Both raved about the irenic location and really seemed to like the amount of natural light the house provides. I was able to appreciate these things anew thanks to their comments. The lack of activities within walking distance still makes me a little crazy some days, but it really is a beautiful spot in which to live.

We traveled to the local coffeehouse, which I was happy to introduce them to because it helped share something more about the lifestyle we now enjoy back in Ohio. I highly recommended my favorite coffee...chocolate raspberry...to both of them. The rest of the hour was spent hearing about their plans for New York and future career options. We caught up on college friends and our own families.

By 9:00 when it was time to leave, I had to remind myself that I still had a worship service to lead. The morning so far had been that comfortable. I do wonder if I'd felt differently if I'd had to preach, though. Perhaps fortunately for all involved, I didn't, and instead I got to have a relaxing breakfast with my wife and best friend.

It set the tone for the day. The service was what it was set up to be, that being a mixed bag of hymns called out by the congregation: 'He Lives' to 'Silent Night' to 'Are You Washed in the Blood?' to a hymn that I honestly have never heard in my life but known by heart by some of our older members.

The majority of the afternoon was spent on the couch. Mrs. Jeff became engrossed by some Discovery channel programs about sunk ships such as the Titanic and Queen Anne's Revenge, while I quietly settled in for a nap. We were quite the picture of laziness: sitting on opposite ends of the couch, our legs intertwined, her watching TV and me in a coma. If that wasn't enough, two of our cats were doing pretty much the exact same thing on the back of the couch by my head. We ate take-out and later on wandered into town to get ice cream.

Some are quick to differentiate between sabbath and taking time off. Sabbath is meant to convey something more sacred, more spiritual, while just taking time off might be more what we did yesterday. I don't think the difference is that stark. Here we were spending the afternoon together, no church work or homework to speak of...just enjoying each other's presence. Somewhere in there was God, reminding us to take time to just be still. Maybe it fit into the category of 'Godly play,' though I don't know much about that concept (it actually sounds kind of silly). At any rate, the two of us have been enjoying a lot of days like this lately, more than in the past 2-3 months combined. God calls us to strengthened relationships, and if that's applicable anywhere, it's in marriage.

What I should have done at the end of the day is say a prayer of thanks. I didn't, but now that I've realized it I can say one now.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Different Kind of Tour

Recently I watched a documentary where four comedians tour small rock clubs as opposed to more upscale comedy clubs.

I thought, 'Could preachers do that? Would anyone come to see them? It'd be a whole different audience, that's for sure.'

Then I read about Rob Bell's 'Everything is Spiritual' tour.

So I guess the answer is yes.

Of course, it helps to pastor a huge church and be nationally known...but hey, it still answers my question.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Disconnect

Why has a pastor who is becoming increasingly fed up with hymns scheduled a hymn sing for tomorrow?

Update: By the way, it went pretty well. We celebrated both Christmas and Easter this morning, and we sang about being washed in blood. A mixed bag, that's for sure.

Friday, July 14, 2006

GalPal Pet Peeve Meme

I didn't used to be a big meme person, but sometimes the GalPals come up with one that I don't mind playing. So this one is all about pet peeves.

1. Grammatical pet peeve - I don't think I really have one. I do get irritated when someone uses the wrong version of a word, i.e., 'Are you going back to you're house?' or 'I like pizza, to.' It's more a minor annoyance than a full-blown pet peeve, though.

2. Household pet peeve - I have two, and they're both cat-related. First, even though we splurged on a self-scooping litter box (with three cats it was practically necessary), there is the eventuality that is changing the tray into which said litter gets dumped. Because the box is in a part of the house that is scarcely visited, neither of us are very good at catching it before it begins to overflow, so it is a pet peeve that can be avoided. The second also involves a kitty luxury: my wife bought the cats a water dish with a fountain, because apparently constantly running water is healthier for them to drink. Well, when the water gets low, the fountain begins to make a really irritating noise. So those are my household 'pet' peeves.

3. Arts & Entertainment pet peeve (movie theaters, restaurants, concerts) - Recently I realized that TVs in restaurants are detrimental to one's dining experience if one is out with other people. I'll be talking to someone and they don't hear a word I'm saying because they're talking about T.O. again on Sportscenter...except there's no volume, so he must be lip-reading. You could be doing anything and someone flips on a TV and suddenly you have a roomful of zombies.

4. Liturgical pet peeve - Corporately read prayers with exclamation marks. It's not really the prayer itself, it's how we in traditional mainline churches treat them. When a prayer such as, 'We are excited that your Holy Spirit gives us life each new day! We are empowered and ready to seek your kingdom!' is read as if every church member's dog just died, I have to keep myself from bashing my head against the pulpit.

5. Wild card--pet peeve that doesn't fit any of the above categories - Is that Crunch Wrap Supreme good to go? Is it? Is it really? Is it good to go? Tell me again. Tell me it's good to go. I missed it the last time you said it. No, go ahead. Good to go? Seriously? You never mentioned that before. Are you sure it's good to go? It is? Well, thank God. Hey everyone, it's good to go! I'm sure of it now!

Bonus: Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: What do YOU do that others might consider a pet peeve? I can be pretty non-committal at times. When asked what I want to do on a particular evening, I usually say, 'Iunno. Whatever.' Unfortunately, both my wife and I are like this, so we usually irritate the crap out of whomever else we're hanging out with. That, or we irritate each other: 'MAKE A DECISION!' 'NO, YOU MAKE A DECISION!!'

'Spiritainment' Alternatives

Monday Morning Insight is reporting on George Barna's latest venture. Barna has tracked church trends for years and years and has used his data to predict where the church is or should be headed. Well, in a departure from that project, Barna is now head of a Christian entertainment company called Good News Holdings. Here's what they plan to do together:

“Our objective is to be the forerunner in a new genre of multimedia we are calling spiritainment,” says Good News Chairman George Barna. “Our research has shown that people—especially young people—absorb an amazing degree of their values, beliefs and lifestyle practices from the media content to which they are exposed. Our desire is to raise spiritual questions and draw people closer to God and His truths.”

As I commented there, I'm skeptical about the quality of 'spiritainment' that will come from this project. I've been skeptical of most of most of the Christian subgenre of entertainment for years now. Most Christian music is three chords on an acoustic guitar and a string of pious cliches (Mark Driscoll refers to them as 'prom songs to Jesus,' which I can't help but laugh at), and when I think Christian movies, I think Left Behind, which was a 90-minute video tract with some explosions. If Left Behind-quality stuff is what Good News will produce, I don't expect anyone outside the subgenre to take it seriously.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of non-Christian specific movies that raise good spiritual questions without stopping the story for a Four Spiritual Laws Moment. Of course, not all of these are family-friendly, which is probably another goal for Barna's group. Check out Gattica and I, Robot for themes of human identity. Watch Dogma for a critique of the church. 25th Hour has themes of human community. Pretty much any superhero movie has a Christ figure. Remember how most Christians latched onto The Matrix after it came out? Plus, there are a slew of 'Gospel According To...' books out that explore the likes of Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Peanuts, and The Sopranos. There are Sunday School curricula such as 'Reel to Real' devoted to the same thing.

So I'm not thrilled about 'spiritainment.' A movie with a quality story and strong spiritual themes can be made without painstakingly working in Romans Road. We'll see how Barna and Good News approach it.

Pop Culture Roundup

Last weekend I realized that I've never read a book by Jules Verne, so I went to the library and checked out 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea...all 400 pages of it. I'm about 100 pages from the end, so I should finish this weekend. It's easy when Verne devotes entire paragraphs to dates, classifying fish, and ship coordinates. The story itself is compelling, with Captain Nemo refusing to ever set foot on dry land again and the constant surprises that he reveals to his three prisoners. I just wish Verne wouldn't get so bogged down in lists of all the different crustaceans they saw.

We saw Pirates 2, which I didn't like as much as the first just because I like ghost stories more than I like sea monster stories. But the movie has some great action sequences, particularly a swordfight on a moving water wheel. The very end features the last thing you'd expect, which sets up the third movie. And stay through the credits.

Entourage is starting to get interesting. Turtle is starting to go places with his representation of Saigon, and Ari now represents both Chase brothers, so the foursome's B-team has been given a little boost. Vince comes up with his own way to juggle the two movies, which continues to build toward his choosing between being an actor and a movie star. He knows what he wants, but this last episode leaves the viewer hanging on whether he's just screwed himself over.



I saw the Grateful Dead featured on VH1's latest 1970s recap, so I felt compelled to listen to them. I haven't in a while.

Around the web, iMonk rants on the 'Six Degrees of Brian McLaren' dismissal tactic.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Walking the Line

Okay, I have a story to tell you. It'll be the cliffs notes version, because I can't recount an entire night. Last September I drove over to a friend's apartment in Northwest Ohio for a birthday party. While he and I both count ourselves as Christians, I was uncertain of the religious makeup of the rest of the group, which was largely 20-something grad students.

Even so, I was introduced as Jeff the Pastor. Not with those words, but it was mentioned that I am indeed a pastor. It didn't seem to faze anyone really, and I actually had a decent conversation with one young woman about it, who seemed genuinely interested...or maybe she was just trying to be polite. Sometimes I can't tell.

Well anyway, this was my first time away from church members in a while, so I enjoyed myself. I nursed a glass of wine or two, and at one or two points got overly goofy (which is more my personality when I find a situation comfortable, yet many mistake for drunkenness if any amount of alcohol is involved...is there something there about our culture being stereotypical and uncreative that way? There has to be).

For months afterward--to this day, really--I wonder about the impression that I left on that gathering. I'm guessing that it ranged anywhere from, 'This dude's a pastor?' to 'This dude's a pastor!' Punctuation makes a difference. It really does. And so I pulled up Lutheranchik's blog this morning and read this:

Dear God -- please don't let me make an ass of myself.

No, it's not a line from the Morning Prayer. Although maybe it should be.

I've been praying this a lot lately, as my circle of face-to-face friends has expanded to include people for whom the Church is not a warm and fuzzy place of refuge...who, frankly, probably wouldn't be caught dead inside the institutional Church.

....

But the fact remains that I'd rather pop a brewski with a jaded, Christianity-antagonistic hard case than share "quiet time" with a paragon of piety any day. The hard cases are generally fun, funny, generous, kind people; people I want to go out for a beer with. I know that my Christianity makes me an odd specimen in their circles. And I want to "represent" in a way that leaves them with an impression other than, Oh, Christ, not another one.


I'm sure that at times I made an ass of myself over the course of the evening, but it was a different kind of ass-making than what LChik is getting at. I neither recited platitudes nor made judgmental remarks. I just sang The Proclaimers at a fairly high volume. So in some sense I think I communicated that I'm a Regular Guy, yet there's a voice left over from my Evangelical college days, worried and tattling, saying, 'Now, you have to conduct yourself in a manner worthy...etc.' And again, with a prevailing assumption that Loud and Stupid = Drunk, I sometimes wonder if I somehow helped validate someone's notion of Christian hypocrisy rather than help debunk their notion of Christian rigidity.

I have plenty of ammunition to argue against the 'Christian hypocrisy' bit at a theoretical level, so don't worry about that...if you were. This really is something that I've resolved for myself, but I sometimes relapse into old ideas and wonder whether my acting like a Regular Guy is for good or ill. Typing that last sentence made me realize how dumb this concern is.

I can't control how people react.

So I really should just let it go.

Nevertheless, LChik makes some good points. Go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dream with me...

There was one beautiful moment during the All Star game last night that I wanted to make sure my wife shared with me.

Pudge Rodriguez was catching.

Kenny Rogers was pitching.

Albert Pujols was batting.

I said to my wife, 'Just pretend with me for a moment. Just pretend that it's late October.'

And we sat in silence. Pujols flied out and just like that the moment passed.

It could happen, friends. This year it could happen.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wrong Shirt, Wrong Shoes, No Service?

Monday Morning Insight recently posted a story of differing views about appropriate dress in worship:


Dear Abby: My pastor says no one would consider dressing casually if they were going to be in the presence of our president or any other dignitary. Why would we consider anything less for our Lord? Makes perfect sense to me.

Here is the assumption that you show up for this hour or more time slot where you better look sharp because you know God will be in His balcony seat looking over the masses and giving His royal wave. Meanwhile, the rest of the week, God isn't around apparently. It's time to put away this notion that God is closely watching you for this hour, so you better put on your best face.

It's a strange thing when you really think about it. Put on a suit or a dress and you can somehow fool God on Sunday morning, and then go back to your ripped jeans the rest of the week. No...that's a mischaracterization, right? The intent might not be there, but actions speak louder than words. When are we not in God's presence? When are we not in God's sight? Is worship just a Sunday morning activity with hymns and prayers? The notion that we need to look our best for this set time frame ultimately says that here is where you KNOW God is watching and here is where you KNOW you need to look decent. Plus there is the question of looking decent vs. being decent. The phrase 'whitewashed tombs' comes to mind.

This is of course an issue in the context of church, and the thought that now you're in The Lord's House and now you aren't. Never mind that all the earth is the Lord's. Never mind that God is wherever we make our beds. What happens when we become too stringent on what is and isn't appropriate dress on Sunday mornings is we begin to compartmentalize secular and sacred, God is here and God is not here.

Are there lines not to be crossed? Of course. Tube tops, wifebeaters (sorry, can't come up with another word), Speedos and thong bikinis fall on the other side of the line for church dress, among other things. But I would argue that the line is more about common notions of decency and less about God being chief of the fashion police. If someone shows up in jeans, shorts, or sandals...who cares? I would be more concerned about whether one is engaged in the worshipping community or seeking a life of discipleship more than whether one wears khaki or denim. When seeking a new king for Israel after Saul fell out of favor, God told Samuel, "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Eventually, of course, David was chosen. He was the guy who later danced naked before God.

Ultimately, this is not an essential. Or at least it shouldn't be. If you consider dressing up an act of respect or reverence, there's nothing wrong with that. But what are you doing the rest of the week to show that same respect or reverence? Faith is not skin deep.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Review of Barbara Brown Taylor's 'Leaving Church'

When I began hearing rumblings about this book, I was of two minds. On the one hand, I quickly became interested. Barbara Brown Taylor is well-known in both preaching circles and Christian feminist circles, so her books (and in one instance, her self) showed up at my seminary quite often...and she's just a good writer. In addition, this is a book about her journey out of the church, particularly local church ministry, and I've been reading a lot of those types of stories the past few months. So to hear Taylor's story might be fascinating in itself.

I was hesitant to pick up this book for many of the same reasons. Taylor is a name that people are more likely to recognize than any other person I've heard tell their story of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, 'wanting to be free,' and so on. Her story, thus, will be more widely read and perhaps for many hers will be the first and only such story. But for me, this wasn't the first and thus part of my reaction was to question why hers should be more highly regarded or given closer attention. Taylor probably wouldn't suggest that it should, but I could see others elevating it due to her credentials and reputation. So I asked myself why I should bother with this book. True, it would be Taylor's story and no one else's, but it would be the latest in a long string of stories...not the first, not the best. There is no best, actually. In the end, obviously, I gave it a shot.

Taylor divides her book into three sections: 1) 'Finding,' during which she gets caught up in and burnt out by the busyness of ministry and ultimately abandons it, 2) 'Losing,' the interim period during which she discovers what life is like without the daily tasks of ministry, and 3) Keeping, where she's back on the upswing after 'detox' (my word, not hers).

During 'Finding,' Taylor details some of her experiences in the two churches in which she has served: first an urban parish in Atlanta and then a rural parish in northern Georgia. She is fairly successful in both, if indeed success is measured by attendance and attentiveness to daily work. She ends up moving from the urban church to the rural because she's anxious to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to her romanticized notion of a quiet country church where you can hear the birds and see the stars. Once she moves there, she reasons, she'll have more time to spend with God, which only proves to be a setup for disappointment. She's no less busy in the country setting, and she actually becomes disillusioned with the country church quicker than she became disillusioned with the city church.

I had some big issues with 'Finding.' Taylor operates largely under the assumption that if she can find a job that is 'less busy,' she can have more time for personal contemplation. This communicates a few things. First, Taylor seems to be looking for the Perfect Job, which comes off a little self-serving (and naive) as she moves from country parish to her eventual landing spot as a college professor. In addition, I found myself saying out loud to the cats, 'The pastor/priest is not unique when it comes to lamenting a lack of personal/devotional time, nor are we unique when it comes to feeling overworked and wanting more time off. But not everyone is able to just walk away in search of something less busy...whatever that means.' So I can't say that I had a lot of sympathy for the first section in that sense, but could identify as a pastor with the busyness, the desire to feel important and needed, and some of the conflicts that she has with parishioners.

'Losing' is sort of the meat of the book, because here she shares her revelations post-ministry. Here is where she sits on her porch on a Sunday morning for the first time without worrying about leading a service or preaching a sermon. Here is where she visits a few different churches and has to come to grips with not being in the spotlight (and looking at the back of people's heads). Here is where she discovers something about God's wildness and unpredictability that the church has tried to tame through endless doctrinal bickering and declaring God safe and unthreatening in theology and practice. Here is where she doesn't have people trying to act more holy around her because she's wearing a collar. This is the most revelatory portion of the book. The only gripe I have with it is that she has a three-month reprieve before her new job starts. This is helpful to her transition, but the relief that she feels when she is suddenly not busy anymore is a luxury, given that she doesn't have to start teaching until the following semester.

'Keeping' is sort of Taylor's epilogue. She first lists what she's kept from her life as a priest, and then moves to what she has realized since her initial move into a post-church life. This part of the book could have, in some ways, been included with 'Losing,' but given the amount of time that has passed between the two it is perhaps appropriate that they are separate.

All in all, for me personally this was not a revolutionary read. I attribute that to my own familiarity with most of her ecclesiological and theological reflections through other authors, books and media. For one brand new to such concepts and/or steeped in church life, this may be challenging, scandalous, eye-opening or even affirming. If it is your first brush with a story of this stripe, it is a good place to start. If it is your second, third, fourth, or more, you can read it if you want. Taylor is an excellent writer. Read it if you want to hear another exodus-from-church narrative, and if you do, pay close attention to the second section because that's where you'll find its heart.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

I read The Catcher in the Rye very early on this week. I suppose that I can see, for it's time, how it freaked so many people out with the language...but this is tame stuff really. The controversy was whether to have it read in schools, and with the 50s being such a kinder simpler time when children were good and proper and never even thought about drinking or sex, it is understandable why this book had to be kept from their virgin eyeballs. Well anyway, I find the main character Holden hypocritical in that he calls everyone around him phony and then lies his butt off to pretty much everyone he meets. He's not a tremendously likeable character. He has his moments, but ultimately he gives off a vibe of entitlement and laziness that I couldn't sympathize with. In some ways, perhaps he's the archetype of that tendency within us to never be satisfied and thus constantly complain about and abandon things. I also just finished Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church last night, and will be posting a full review of that in the next day or so.

I've seen Superman Returns twice, and not on purpose. The first time, I wanted to be there. The second time, my wife (who saw it with me the first time) was going with some friends who hadn't seen it yet and I didn't feel like sitting at home by myself. There are some really great visuals and Kevin Spacey is a fantastic Lex Luthor. Bob Hyatt points out some things about it that I didn't really pay much attention to but now appreciate: no cheesy action dialogue (or cheesy romantic dialogue, for that matter), and Superman putting down the car being a bit of homage to the cover of his first comic book. It's a good movie...not one that I intentionally wanted to see twice, but a good movie.

Entourage keeps rolling along, now again with just the four guys. The fifth who appeared last week got himself in trouble and basically Vince sets him up nice with an apartment and money to tie up his feelings of obligation. I'm left wondering why they bothered introducing the guy to begin with. Vince has also been offered his dream movie role, and the film's director is who the fifth friend gets in trouble with, so maybe that's the reason. The trouble is resolved until the very end of the episode where it is discovered that Vince's dream movie begins shooting the same day as Aquaman II. So I wonder if the impending conflict will be Vince forced to choose between being an actor and being a movie star; doing the Oscar-possibility movie or the money movie. That seems to be what they've set up, anyway.

Keller Williams is officially the soundtrack to my summer.


Around the web, Stupid Church People has been added to the blog list.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4 Misc.

Happy 4th of July. Yep, I said it. This week I've come to realize that whatever I've been holding onto for this holiday to have an indifferent-to-negative meaning for me...isn't worth it. The good points far outweigh the bad, so happy 4th. Do something productive...nah, wait until tomorrow.

Chris T. at Even the Devils Believe further explains why he thinks the proposed Episcopalian two-tier system (read: split) is a good thing. He raises an important issue about denominational loyalty vs. relationship at the Eucharist. That part is good for those against the proposal to hear.

Bob Hyatt shares a dream he had about his church. He also speaks of denominational loyalty...but not very positively (maybe an understatement). I think that one reason I enjoy reading Bob.blog so much is because he's on the front lines of a new church plant...which is an exciting place to be in general. I mean, how bored can one really be in an environment like that?

While piecing together my preaching plans for the rest of the summer, I've found the lectionary generally uninspiring. So last week, I preached on the parable of the soils from Mark, and this week, I'm going to Acts 17 where Paul preaches at the Areopagus, sometimes translated as Mars' Hill. There were a lot of commas in that sentence. Anyway, I'm going to focus on Paul's courage to make such outrageous claims on the steps of the area's top place of worship...perhaps what John Thomas would call 'evangelical courage.' And actually, whether he'd call it that or not, that's exactly what it is. How often do we defer to psychology when comforting a friend, or to economics when considering an important change to our church building, or to politics when taking sides on a hot-button issue? It's like the hope that is within us, the source of those same outrageous claims that Paul makes, suddenly evaporates in favor of something safer or more foolproof. It's easier or more sensible to cite practicality instead of 'because God wants us to.'

So there are some thoughts to take you through a day that is hopefully not spent in front of the computer to begin with. Enjoy the holiday.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I like this one...

You scored as The Kingdom as a counter-system. This approach has been adopted by Anabaptist and similar groups who saw themselves as recapturing the essence of true Christianity in opposition to a "Christianised" society and an institutional church.

The Kingdom as a counter-system

67%

The Kingdom is mystical communion

58%

The Kingdom is a Future Hope

58%

Kingdom as a Christianised Society

58%

The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia

58%

Inner spiritual experience

42%

The Kingdom as a political state

33%

The Kingdom as Institutional Church

25%

What is the Kingdom of God?
created with QuizFarm.com

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Weekend?

I wonder how many pastors count Saturday as a workday. I don't mean 'I need to finish my sermon instead of going to Billy's baseball game' either. I mean, I wonder how many pastors declare that, if congregants really need you, they can count on you being in the office sometime that day, or you purposely schedule an event that day because you'll be working anyway. Finishing the sermon is a perk because you don't feel like you're sacrificing time that could otherwise be spent...well...doing anything fun. Or maybe one feels that way regardless.

I switched Saturday to a workday around the new year. I thought that it would give me an opportunity to catch up with all those congregation members who have 9-5 weekday jobs. So far, this move has not yielded the results I've been seeking, partially because I don't think I've really taken advantage of the possibilities yet. It does help for scheduling new member classes, and there are plenty of activities scheduled on Saturdays anyway, where I don't feel like I'm taking time out of a day off to do them.

Still, I haven't fully adjusted to the concept of working on Saturday. This is the sacred do-nothing day for many people (and it is perhaps a little naive of me to think that people who work all week would want to spend even part of it with their pastor, outside of worship which is built into the schedule). I DO like the lack of set office hours one less day a week. If I had to just sit in my office four mornings a week, I'd get some sort of church office cabin fever. Saturdays have become my flexible day...I set my own schedule (a good chunk of which IS devoted to the sermon). Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are my more typical office hours/committee meeting/Bible study/afternoon retiree visit times. Saturdays invite more creativity. They are the day for youth outings and lunches with 20-somethings. They are for weddings and swiss steak. They are for last-minute sermon prep and discussing baptism with young families. In the culture of this particular church anyway, working on Saturdays makes sense. You can't get 'em to do much of anything on Sundays (it's unofficially designated as Family Day), so Saturdays are the next option.

Of course, it won't be like this forever. My wife has hated this arrangement since I made the switch. And once we have a kid old enough to go to school, there's no way I'm giving up my entire Saturday.

So for now, it works. On the flip side, Mondays as a day off are freakin' awesome. I kind of shorthand myself in terms of all those national holiday Mondays (Labor Day, MLK, Memorial Day), but I love the feeling of walking out after the benediction and thinking, 'Okay...we'll pick up again on Tuesday.' Yeah, that's the stuff.